Geoff Rowley - Forever On The Hunt
So we’re back here talking once again because you are about to release yet another video part. Did it feel like you jumped into a new video project or does it feel like one big, crazy California adventure for you?
I’m out skating and filming most of the time, out with guys that have cameras. The periods of time we’re not focused on making a video, it slows down. But to answer your question, it’s like Groundhog’s Day. I’ve been filming straight since I was 18, 19 years old. Twenty-five years of filming videos and I love it. I’m fired up, even at this age. I was looking for skate spots for four or five hours yesterday. I still got the juice.
Five-o grind where the forest meets the streets Photo: Acosta
Watching your old video parts I came to the realization that you guys did it all during those glory years. You made ditches an acceptable terrain, which was huge for skateboarding. You skated huge kinkers, big rails—what the fuck are you looking for now? What even catches your eye after doing all that?
If you want to progress your skating, a lot of times you have an idea of tricks you could maybe do but you need the spot to be able to do them. Where I’m from, we had no ledges. If I wanted to learn a ledge trick, I would have to go to the black block, which was one black slab of marble. That was the only one in the city that was really slidey. We made a lot of those videos with the big gaps, handrails and bigger hubbas, but what’s next after you’ve jumped off that roof? I’ve done four or five bigger-sized roof gaps. If I want to keep going then it’s got to look different or else I’m just playing the odds. I’m not looking to do that. I’m searching for new spots, things I’ve never skated, oddities, freaks, weird architectural things—just some of the things I’ve tried to find. When I was skating a lot of big rails and hubbas, the next big step from that was, how can I find that hubba into a 30-ft bank? That’s the next progression of it and at the time Danny Way was the one who spawned a lot of the ideas I had. He was going faster and further. We were wondering how we could do that on the street. There was only so fast we could push, so that’s when I started looking at ditches and other spots like that. We had done the other stuff a lot. I was also tired of getting kicked out of skating a handrail four times before I could relax and really skate it. Straight up.
I remember in those days, going out and shooting you guys was really exciting. It felt like you were doing bigger, scarier, wilder things almost every time we went out. Did it feel like you were living the life of a Roman at that point? Like “We’re here, crushing skateboarding!” Was there a certain level of cockiness or confidence about it between you and your friends?
I think there’s confidence, for sure. There are cocky moments, but it was in the moment. You’re a kid. Look back and think to yourself that it happened so fast. Three years later, we had skated 400 handrails, but it came and went. Did it feel like that when we were doing it? Honestly, it does now when you’re having a good week. It feels the same way but when you’re young, you have a lot of energy and strength to beat your body up. You could get away with murder more often than when you get older and you’re not as quick.
You came from England as an outsider and suddenly you were amongst some of your idols. The next thing you know, people such as Rick Howard or Mike Carroll are wondering what you and your friends are going to be doing. You moved the needle in skateboarding. What did that feel like?
Humbling. Thankful that skateboarding was as warm, open and welcoming as that. As a skateboarder, you grow up and hope your favorite pros are approachable. You hope you don’t meet them and they crush your life by telling you that you suck. It’s happened. Ed Templeton had some issues with that early on. I was the guy in music where I had the opportunity to meet whoever it might be and I didn’t want to go backstage because I didn’t want that ruined. Most professional skaters are the opposite of that. They’re super open, stoked that you came up and spoke with them. To find that out about all of the guys I idolized growing up was fucking rad. That’s why I got into skating: for good people, people that are accepting and skateboarding, for the most part, has been.
What about the people that were your immediate peers? Although you respected them and probably liked them as friends, they were a real pain in your ass. I’m thinking of Jamie Thomas, Jim Greco, guys that were on the same level as you and your friends. I don’t mean it necessarily in a bad way but sometimes you need that competition.
Fire under the ass is good for anyone. I’ve always been a fan of Jamie’s skating and I had skated with him a lot during that period. I had a lot of respect for him, but everyone was hitting spots in Southern California daily. Nightly. You could show up at a spot that you didn’t think anyone even knew of at midnight, it’s lit up and someone is already skating it. There was a bit of that race to some of those big rails. For me, I wasn’t really intimidated or felt threatened. I didn’t feel like those guys were trying to take me down. It wasn’t as competitive as it sounds. A lot of those guys from that generation, we were very driven and we skated a lot. That’s the outcome of that. If everyone’s filming, someone is gonna do the trick that you want to do, the day before you did it. I would just throw that footage away and go do another trick. I wouldn’t let any little things like that get under my skin. I didn’t want to know what tricks people did at spots because I didn’t even want to entertain that conversation.
Noseblunt sliding into a new Britain, Summer 2018 Photo: Burnett
How about now? Now that you’re a seasoned veteran if you see a tasty spot, do you want to know that the guy in the Sun Diego video already did it switch?
Yeah, I do want to know but if I’m at that spot, I’ll probably know if someone already skated it. I look at the mags and I watch videos all of the time. If I find a spot, I’m going to make sure I check that no one’s skated it before I jump down that thing. Once I’ve skated it if you’re the hottest shit out there at 20 years old and you want to know where that spot is, call me up, I’ll let you know where it’s at. I’ve always been like that. I hold them until a video comes out, because it can ruin videos when you just show things. Same with the mag—if you show everything, all of the time, there’s no magic to it. There was that side of not blowing the spot out. Don’t put stickers on the rail, that kind of stuff bothered me. Keep it pure.
Now that you can look back, what were some of the tricks that were really sketchy? The ones where you thought you were lucky to get out of those alive?
I don’t think anything we do in skateboarding is without its odds. Without that moment where everything is going right then the next, you’re upside down. That can happen at any moment. A 40-stair rail with a single rock that bounced off of the steps and under your wheel, then you’re dead. All of the road gaps I’ve skated are sketchy and you cannot have any doubt in your head. Just thinking, I feel pretty good, my kickflips are pretty good—nope, it’s not good enough. Those days are a little more focused. With a regular staircase, if you fall down the stairs there’s still concrete under you. If you fall 30, 40, 50-feet as you’re going fast and you splat against the opposing wall, you’re fucked. Would you go into a scenario like that where you can get really hurt, scared? You’re not going to. You’ve got to be really focused and skating well. That container thing I did was sketchy. It was moving.
What was it like when you were up there?
All I could see was a panoramic view of the ocean. I couldn’t see anything I was going to land on, my run-up was 20 feet wide, 80 feet long with a 40-foot landing. It was a 14-foot gap with a three-foot drop. I almost hung up on the first one; I could see down the hole. That was terrifying but to entertain fear? You don’t want to do that.
So were you just zoomed in on those surfaces?
I used a scissor lift then had to climb an extra five feet to get up there. The whole thing was moving, it was windy and I had headwinds. There was no paramedic on sight with the five of us there. So I didn’t go off the end, I had to have someone catch me. When I almost hung up I realized I had to go even faster, which means I’m going to land even faster. If I had landed going that fast and lifted my head up too late, I would’ve gone off the end.
The drop on the other side of the Livi wall has taken more than it’s share of boards, shopping carts and Irn Brü bottles. Stepping lively on ye olde kickflip bean Sequence: Tait
Who was your grabber?
Harry the Bastard, from England. Harry’s rad.
This video marks your 20th anniversary on Vans. After all the videos you’ve made, what made you want to make a video with Ronnie Sandoval and Pedro Barros, two guys who are basically transition skaters?
Because they’re raw as fuck! I relate to their approach to skating, big time. I’ve been a huge fan of both of them since they were kids. I’ve watched them skate and I want to skate like that. They’re fucking incredible. They skate the other ways I wish I could. If I could do the same things as Ronnie on tranny, I would be happy as pie. If I could take Pedro’s skills and combine them with what I can do on the street? That would be a good combo. I would be hyped on that. But honestly, Vans wanted a video part and I wanted some redemption from Propeller. I felt like I got so injured all the way through the filming right up until the premiere. I know guys that are 18-years old, get a minute and a half in, then boom, they blow out their knee. I’ve been fortunate enough to film long enough and don’t get hurt until right at the very end. Propeller, I was hurt all the way through. It happened three or four times. I had a blast filming for it and I want to do a street bit where I’m in good shape. We did this in about a year which is not that long for a guy in his mid-40s with a family. That’s what has been driving me. I enjoy it and I don’t feel like I’m physically tapped out.
So do you think you’re going to redeem yourself now?
I’m going to try. I have another week or two of filming and it’s been going great except the last two times I’ve been out, I got completely and royally served. Of the final six tricks I’ve wanted to film, the first three I’ve gotten completely destroyed. I’m not too sure right this second, but I’m enjoying it. I was in great shape and made a joke about how there wasn’t a bruise or cut on me then the next thing you know it happens to me three times in a row. Now we’re going to go out after we do this interview to shoot a photo, right? So we’ll see how it goes. I’m that guy that likes to overachieve and when it comes down to the wire, I like to give it that 110 percent. I don’t like to get to the end of any project and slow down. Get to the end of it and seal the deal. I feel good on my board right now and I’m thankful for that.
I know you got to go back to England for a little bit to film. Will we see any guest appearances?
I don’t know; we’ll see. I wanted Danny Wainwright in there so I’m waiting for that clip to show up. Always been a huge fan of Danny and in every video, I’ve tried to have one dude in there that I’m psyched on. This one has been a little more organic. I haven’t been laying it out, I’ve just been filming and filming right ’til the end. I don’t want the distraction. Whatever it ends up being, it is what it is, but Ronnie Sandoval is in it. That’s sick.
Switch noseslide with tell-tale BMX demarcation Photo: Dillon
We had a great time last summer when we went to Romford, Harrow and all of those fucked-up crusty skateparks.
You guys left and I carried that on. I went to some other older skateparks out that way in England. Went down to London and skated with Ben Raemers, obviously before he passed. Rest in peace, love him. So that’s a little heavy. When they asked me if I wanted it to be a solo part or to have anyone in this video, I told them I wanted raw dudes. Ronnie Sandoval and Pedro Barros, no questions. I wanted to go to England for the first trip of this video. Let’s take these guys to all of the old skateparks that I can skate, too, with big, old, ditchy tranny rather than your standard perfect halfpipe or bowl which I knew those guys would annihilate. More importantly, that’s my home country and those spots hadn’t been hit like that. I wanted to see that. I wanted people to see it. It was Ronnie, Pedro, Jake, you, myself then I met up with Ben on that trip. It’s weird that a year later I’m finishing the video and two of the guys we were on the first trip with have passed, two people that are friends of mine. That’s heavy and it happened right at the end of this. It’s weird for me to finish the video off like that. I’m going to some of these big spots and I feel a little bit fragile. I’m not able to address what’s happened. All of us, yourself included. Processing the beautiful lives of Jake Phelps and Ben Raemers. The same thing happened with Shane Cross. He passed then we had to finish the video. It took somebody to stand up and smile. It feels a little bit like that with this part. It’s uncomfortable but in the same breath, Jake Phelps was the shit. Straight up, growing up with that grit and grime, what Thrasher magazine is about, Jake was it. The DNA. He accepted me right away and I loved him for that. With that motivation, I may not be physically 20, but damn I have that same drive. I will push myself as far as I can go. I don’t know what that looks like and I don’t care. I also hope people watch the video and become inspired. I don’t want it to be depressing; it’s supposed to be firing it up. Both of those guys did that. I hope it motivates people to skate ’cause that’s what Jake did for me.
Does that make picking out the song even more crucial?
I’ve skated to Motörhead so many times that I’m not going to skate to one of their tracks this time around, but all I could think of was Jake. He loved Motörhead and Lemmy for all the right reasons. If he was still alive, he would be writing right now. He passed a year before the start of this video. My other friend shot himself as well. This past couple of years have been kind of gnarly for me and I’m just trying to stay positive. I’m trying to be in good shape to move into the next chapter of life.
Bluntslide to 5-0 fakie. We’ll leave that second bit to your imagination Photo: Wig
The skateboard community and us personally have dealt with a lot of loss recently. In your moments when you feel beat down and sad, where do you find inspiration?
I haven’t processed what happened to Jake. I can’t do that right as we’re finishing a skate video. At all. My children give me a reason to believe in humanity. Every single day, but that’s not skateboarding. If I’m gonna go out and be motivated to do the act of skateboarding, it’s that mentality. The Jake Phelps, John Cardiel, Julien Stranger mentality that fires me up. That energy is inside you. It’s proven that if you can smile, you can handle more pain. If you go out with that mindset, where whatever happens, I can drop in right now and no matter what anybody says, I’ll be fine. That’s what drives me. The grit and grime of the guys I wanted to skate like. I think of Cardiel when I try a trick and I get fired up. If he was here now, skating—he would just jump on that thing. I was always like that as a kid. As soon as I soften, I’m done and I won’t let that happen.
Anyone that has been around skating as long as we have know that you go through waves of crews, skateparks and friends. It’s hard for anyone to be as involved with it as you get older. You’re so well known for your videos and crew you had early on, do you want to recreate that with Free Dome or is it a different kind of project? Do you want to bring new kids up and care about making that kind of community or is it just boards you like the graphics of?
Yes, I care about skateboarding. Yes, I want to make a great brand. Yes, having guys ride for the company is important. Yes, me doing it wholeheartedly is what I plan on doing. That’s it. The rest I have no plans for. I don’t have a business model, if that’s your question. I have a way I want to roll out a brand that feels like a natural and healthy way. It would’ve been the same as if I had done that 30 years ago.
He’s the finest bank skater alive. Noseblunt slide shove it, dancing in the dust Sequence: Burnett
It seems like what gives a brand its heart is the people. It’s the team.
For sure. I put out one skateboard and I’m launching a brand right now. I’m not going to have a whole team right now while I’m building a brand. I want the brand to come out, people to have a look at it and see if they like it and that’s when I’m going to go after riders. Simple as that. I’ve been looking for the last few months, scouring the Internet and asking everyone that I know who’s hot in the area, which is something I’ve always done because I’m a fan of skateboarding. I always want to know about some hot kid coming out of the North of England. Not because I want to go and just sponsor the kid, but because I’m a fan. I want to see him skate. There’s a lot of rad guys coming out, from Europe as well as the US—a lot of great skaters, including ones that aren’t marketed correctly. In my humble opinion, the backbone isn’t helping them as much as they could be. If I get a guy and he wants to ride for the brand, I want to help that guy all the way through to be successful so he can focus on his skateboarding. I’ve dealt with that. I’m also comfortable dealing with the business as well as skating. I know why I do it and I plan on being as open as I can, but more importantly, it’s a creative outlet for me. So far it’s been a laugh. It’s been a joke doing the graphics. It’s not work; it’s different. I’ve done it that much and I took a bit of a break the last couple of years because I’ve had no board sponsor so now to be able to conceive my own graphics along with a plethora of creative ideas, I’m enjoying that. It’s pretty fun to be in your 40s doing that. I don’t take that for granted. Just the fact I have the opportunity, I don’t take it for granted. One thing that is important and the main reason why I wanted to start a board company was the message and voice from the brand. I feel like a lot of other brands have quieted down a little bit. I think we need to rustle it up a little bit. No one’s really saying much and that’s the side that inspired me as a kid. Doesn’t have to make sense. Not everything has to make sense. I look at it as a comic book. The story can just end whenever it wants. You can do that with a skateboard company or creative brand as well. A huge inspiration for that is Ed Templeton. He does it the way he does it but it’s always connected to skate. It’s important that it’s connected to skate.
ZZZIPPPPPP! Photo: Acosta
Right now there seems to be a big interest in fashion connected to skateboarding commerce, to sell a bunch of t-shirts to non-skaters. What do you think about fashion’s role in skateboarding these days?
Are you talking about runway fashion? Where lots of the models and so on are wearing Thrasher shirts?
I guess what I’m saying is that every successful company is one click away from the Supreme store. Everyone wants a piece of that; it’s a trickle-down system. In reality, Supreme has a great team and do good things for skateboarding but most of the money probably doesn’t come from skateboarders. Is that a problem?
If that money is redirected into the industry, that ain’t so bad.
You influence outside of the industry that might pick it up or let’s say may have a child and they might be introduced to skateboarding through that. I don’t have a problem with non-skaters buying skate gear, but it’s not really my focus. Runway fashion and supermodels for me have no appeal. Even in the ’90s where skateboarding was really big and you could go to all of those clubs in LA, I didn’t want to go to those. I wanna go somewhere with a regular person that would talk to me. I don’t really relate to it. I see what it is and the influence it has. I don’t think the exposure is bad but I have no fucking interest in it. The fashion I wear has been influenced by skate fashion. The Thrasher hoodie wasn’t cool. Who was wearing it? The skaters. It wasn’t cool then. We were victimized for wearing it. If I wore a Thrasher shirt to school, I would get beat up. I was shouted at, laughed at. Fingers were pointed at me for what I was wearing. The kids now don’t understand that because they didn’t grow up in that. It’s hard for my generation to accept it but I understand and am fine with it.
Do you get to be Steve Caballero at Vans?
Steve Caballero is Steve Caballero at Vans.
But can you get the Cab treatment? Will we be able to buy a Rowley shoe in 2030?
That’s up to Vans.
Do you want to be involved with Vans when you’re 65?
That’s 20 odd years from now. That’s not that far, actually. I don’t think that far ahead. I’d like to, but my experience says that it’s unrealistic. You can have goals, but achievable goals. That’s not what I’m looking at right now. I’m really focused on skating a lot, making sure my priorities are in the right place and my family is taken care of. My skateboarding is the most important thing for me right now. With having kids and all of those things, it’s difficult keeping that focus on learning a trick when the kid just pooped on the floor. I just make sure when I’m home, I’m present and when I leave I’m a lunatic. I fit in as much skating and living as I can and when I come home I’m there for my children.
Impossible 50-50. Thrashin’ is his fashion Sequence:: Acosta
What’s the hardest thing to get right when you’re designing a shoe?
Probably the fit. When you skate, you’re using the product to its max. If it doesn’t fit well, it’s a problem. Grip as well. Those two things are the most important for me in a Vans shoe. They have been since day one and that’s why I wanted the made-in-the-USA Vans. At the time all of the shoes were getting slippy and puffy. I wanted a little more feeling on the board.
Skipping a quick one, carving past the guard rail Photo: Acosta
What’s your best shoe?
Best? My favorite one is the shoe I’ve worn more than any other model, the first one. That’s the one we just reissued and we fixed it up. Made it a little bit more modern, different sock liner, different pattern and cleaned it up. That’s a no-brainer, really.
Is it true you made a pact with Ed that whoever dies first gets the other one’s skull?
Yes, I don’t think it’s legal, though. I think Deanna would have to sign off on that one. I would do it; I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s a beautiful thing to hold a skull with great regard and think about that person or animal. That’s why I have taxidermy on the walls. I do mostly European taxidermy. Skulls are a beautiful thing.
How’d that taste? Let him catch his breath and ask him again Sequence: Burnett
Where would you display Ed’s skull in your home?
Above the mantlepiece. Right in the middle, below the buffalo skull. Maybe with a whole collection of birds because he looks like a wild bird. So a wild turkey skull or something like that.
Did you have any doubt in your head that you could get into the grind on the Staples Center?
Yeah, I have every doubt when I try to skate a spot bigger than anything I’ve ever done before. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re rolling full speed like that. Absolutely. But you have to have the confidence to see it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I knew I could skate something like that. I could physically handle it and I knew if I didn’t skate it then, I probably wouldn’t. That’s what I struggle with now. I want to skate that 40 stair and skate with the same speed to it. That’s hard for me now. I lay in bed at night, bummed about that. The dream—you don’t get to have everything you want, but I want more. I want a bigger rail. Like a noseblunt—I feel like I could’ve noseblunted a kinked rail 15 years ago. I just never did. Certain tricks I never did as well as I could do them. Most of the basic tricks on the bigger rails and hubbas, I did as well as I could do them. There’s a couple tricks I feel like I could still do past that level, but I have to find the spot for them. That’s when I lay in bed at night wondering where that spot is. I’ve been waiting 25 years to find the right double kink rail to 180 nosegrind. Someone send it into Thrasher so we can skate it! That’s how I feel. I’m a skate fan. I’m still driven to learn and push myself. That’s where my head is right now. We’re gonna finish this video and I’m going to start filming again. I’m not going to stop. Until I start filming poopy tricks, but that’s not the case right now. I’m gonna keep street skating and pushing myself ’til the wheels fall off. They do fall off sometimes. They fell off when I was skating quite a few times. The cover of Thrasher where I was doing a backside 360 ollie into the bank, my wheel came off when I ollied into it, warming up. It almost hit Ewan Bowman and Dan Sturt in the head. It whizzed off. It’s a 40-foot bank, 20 feet on the flat and another 30-foot bank. I went to go up the other side and the wheel ripped out of the housing. It flew a million miles an hour and almost hit the filmer in the face. I had to hike back out to my car, no wheels in there. Hiked back down to Ewan and Sturt, told them we had no wheels so we had to leave. Hiked back up to the car, which is about 20 minutes. We drove 45 minutes to Bob’s house and got a huge vert wheel off the vert ramp in the little closet with the smelly old pads. It was an orange 58mm wheel, literally chewed by dogs. I ride 53’s and just grabbed it, happy to find a wheel. We drove another 45 minutes back to the spot, did the 20-minute hike and landed the trick in four tries. That does happen; the wheels do fall off. I’m going to continue to push myself until another wheel falls off.
Backside flip at Slab City, party of two. As long as there’s concrete to be conquered, Geoff Rowley will never quit Photo: Burnett
3/14/2020It’s been a year but the love keeps flowing. We’ve added new testimonials to this retrospective page. Take a few moments and soak up more stories from the life and times of Jake Phelps.
2/28/2020Tomorrow’s hottest pros and Long Beach’s glitterati packed into Bradford’s for a first look at the hot-off-the-press Am Scramble video. Check the photos to feel like you’re part of the action, watching the scramblers shine, putting back White Claws with the best of ‘em.
9/10/2019Ladies and Gents, we present to you, the legend that keeps on giving. Give a warm welcome to the one and only, Mr Geoff Rowley.
8/29/2019Geoff and Jeff talk about goin' big and who gets gnar in the latest episode of Love Letters. There will be Cardiel.
8/12/2019This one will get the blood flowing and heart pumping. Geoff, Pedro and Ronnie put it all on the line in honor of the Phelper.